Five of us, Platypus Rock, and my sister’s ashes.
The box is plastic, almost the size of a loaf of bread, and it’s heavy, I’d say nearly two kilos. We’ve been told to bring a spoon so we can get the lid off. Libby’s partner, Darren, carries the box snug in his arm as we troop the five-minute walk to our spot. There’s the rock, big, dark brown, craggy. We climb down off our rock onto a smaller rock on the bank of the river. The smaller rock is a slippery three-person job so we’ll be taking turns to stand on it.
The lid comes off the box.
I tip ashes into Darren’s open hands. Ashes don’t look like you’d expect. I thought they’d be charcoalish, blacker and flakier. They’re gravel and they’re sand, and it’s true what we’ve been told, ashes are like kitty litter.
Darren squats on the edge of the rock and casts a small amount at a time into the water. He’s talking, and we stand back, but we can hear his last words to our sister, goodbye Sweet Pea and I love you, Sweet Pea. He’s brought a photo of him and her at his sister’s wedding, and he drops it onto the water, the photo sinks to the bottom, that’s not what we expected either.
Next it’s my turn and I hold out my hands. Darren tips ashes into them. I close my hands over her like how you’d hold a butterfly, soft, open. I squat at the edge and go to release her but I can’t. Several times I try, but it’s all action and not actual. I’m afraid to let go, don’t want to. My hands are shaking, I’m saying fuck, fuck, fuck, over and over. Finally I let go and into the water she goes. Sounds. The whisper of the river, the swishy plink of Libby’s ashes hitting the water, and my brother, Anthony, in tears.
I stand back and take photos as Darren helps the ashes into Erin’s hands, and Jasmine’s and Anthony’s, a turn at a time. I snap away indiscriminately, hoping to catch glimpses of anything useful. The sun is bright for a winter day and it seems to help the ashes cling to the air.
In time, after handful after handful, the rock is white at the edges, a frill of ashes, speckles of white against the golden mud of the bottom of the river, light white on the grass that peaks out of the rocks.
Madonna is playing.
In time, we get used to the idea of this, our Libby being held for one last time, the feel of her, gritty, soft and dusty.
She’s in our hair, our faces, our mouths. My lips are dry with her and I keep licking them. She’s on our clothes. I leave a pair of handprints on my niece’s back where I held her when she was holding me.
Erin is the first to make us laugh.
‘Jasmine, you’ve got Libby on your leg.’
It’s the irreverence we need. We laugh like idiots.
We are almost out of ashes and it has taken some time, we’ve all had turn after turn, we’re down to the last. My last handful, I hold her in my fists and squeeze, I’d like it to hurt, I squeeze harder and it does. There.
I open my fists and let go, goodbye, Libby, I love you.
The box is empty. We climb up off the rock and onto the grass. Anthony says she’s free now and he’s right.
that’s my sister saying goodbye to her sister